3D or not 3D? That is the question
In the 20th century everything changed for cinema. First came silent movies, then ‘talkies’ (films with sound) and then colour films. The 21st century has also seen a new step forward in film technology: the 3-D revolution. Just five years ago it was very rare to see a 3-D film at a mainstream cinema, but in 2010 50% of the ten highest grossing films of the year were 3-D. What caused this sudden change? Is it a good thing? Are 3-D films here to stay?
The first 3-D film was shown to a paying audience in 1920, but throughout the 20th century the technology remained a gimmick – a clever trick to enjoy at Disneyland, and nothing more. In the 1980s, as technology improved, 3-D became more popular in mainstream cinema. However, it was only low-brow films, such as Jaws 3D, which made use of the new technology. Then, in 2009, there was Avatar. At $237 million, Avatar is one of the most expensive films ever to be made, but it’s also the highest grossing one. As well as being popular with cinema-goers, the film pleased critics, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards (it won three). Avatar’s huge success started the 3-D revolution, and in 2011 alone 42 different 3-D films will be shown in cinemas across Britain and America.
3-D films are obviously very popular. The technology truly immerses you in the film and makes you feel like you’re part of the action. It can make you believe that you’re on Avatar’s planet Pandora when in fact you’re actually just sat in the cinema on a wet Tuesday afternoon. 3-D films reach out to the audience (quite literally, in some cases) in a way that perhaps normal 2-D films do not. Audiences worldwide have shown they enjoy being more involved in a film and the popularity of 3-D films has helped improve box-office sales during the economic crisis, when people don’t usually spend extra money on entertainment. Even if you don’t like 3-D films, you should perhaps still be grateful to the technology for making studios money during the recession, enabling them to carry on making great cinema in both 2-D and 3-D.
However, what’s good for film studios isn’t always good for audiences. 3-D film tickets do cost more than normal cinema tickets, and you must decide if seeing a film in 3-D is worth the extra money. While some people say that 3-D technology makes films more involving, surely that’s the purpose of the script, acting and direction? If a film’s budget is being spent on 3-D then less is being spent on these three things, which used to be all a film needed to make it involving. What’s more, several films are being turned into 3-D after they have been made in 2-D, rather than being made in 3-D from the start. This produces a weaker effect and can be seen as a way of studios cashing in on the popularity of 3-D whilst actually creating an inferior product. For example, why did Disney need to re-release The Lion King in 3-D? How much did the new technology add to a film that was already fantastic? Was it enough to justify the higher ticket prices? Not only are some studios charging higher prices for lower quality films, but many people get headaches from wearing 3-D glasses, which ruins the experience. It’s possible that the new, popular technology is still not advanced enough to be more than a passing craze, and film-makers that misuse the technology and produce weak films will lessen the popularity of 3-D.
Although it is clear that there are problems with 3-D, both with the technology itself and the way it is used by greedy studios, many hope that these are just teething problems. In terms of mainstream cinema, 3-D technology is still very young, so it’s understandable that there have been (and still are) issues with it. It is important to remember that films with sound and colour were once new, exciting and uncertain technologies, but they both survived! Furthermore, even if a film is released in 3-D, most cinemas will also show it in 2-D, so that those who prefer the good old cinema experience can still enjoy the film in the ‘normal’ way. With over 20 3-D films planned for release in 2012 it seems that the technology will remain popular for another year at least, but only time will tell if 3-D is truly the future of cinema.